Invisible Friendships

Are you open to forming an intimate relationship with someone whom you don’t get to see?

At an after-party during the Catholic New Media Celebration in Atlanta weekend before last, I stood around chatting with a group of friends – all of whom I had originally met online – about this year’s conference. One of them took a step back and noted how strange it was that we were all there together in someone’s flat, drinking rare IPA’s and eating ice cream cake shaped like Hello Kitty’s head (don’t ask.) “There’s really no reason,” he observed, “for any of these people to be here together and know each other.”

It was an apt observation. It’s true that the CNMC always brings people together into new relationships, both personal and professional. In the days following the conference, many of the attendees have made similar observations on their respective podcasts and blogs, in their social media posts and comments. New collaborative projects always emerge online – watch this space – and people who did not previously know each other end up becoming friends.

However there’s something deeper at work here than simply throwing together a bunch of Catholic media nerds with common interests. After all, the same can and does happen at comicons or political conventions or any other similar gathering of like minds. Because beyond the silliness and selfies, the CNMC is really about recognizing the universal call of holiness to which all of us must respond.

And part of the way we do that, both in new media and social media, is by witnessing to people whom we will probably never see, about Someone whom we have not seen yet.

In St. John’s Gospel, when St. Thomas comes to believe in the reality of the Resurrection, Christ remarks: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (St. John 20:29) Similarly, St. Peter sums up the experience of those early Christians who never got to meet Jesus in the flesh during their lives, using words which are still resonant of the Christian experience today: “Although you have not seen Him you love Him; even though you do not see Him now yet believe in Him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 St. Peter 1:8-9)

Most of us – unless we are very, very blessed indeed – are not going to get to see Him during this life. I can’t Snapchat with God. We can only hope to see Him in the life to come. That can’t happen however, unless we are constantly trying to keep in communication with Him, through prayer. 

Prayer is not like an IM chat, where we need to see a checkmark to know the recipient has received what we are trying to say. He hears all of our prayers, when we make them; we take that on faith. Yet the message is going to have a much harder time getting through, if we don’t even bother to make it most of the time. Just as you can’t expect an online relationship to grow and develop if you don’t actually communicate with one another, so too you can’t expect to come to know Him, unless you’re willing to sit down and take the time to communicate with Him through prayer.

As we stumble through life constantly sinning our way into the grave, we are blessed and lucky if we come across people along the way that will give us a hand and pick us up out of the dust and dirt that we keep falling into along the way. Intimate relationships of this kind absolutely can be and are formed through engaging in new media and social media: I’ve seen it happen, and it’s continuing to happen. Yet the most important and intimate relationship of all, the one we have with the One who made us, is so often the one we spend the least time on.

Don’t forget, as you build your online relationships, that He would love to hear from you too, if you’ll take the time to reach out to Him.


Back to Earth

I’m writing this from several thousand feet over the State of Georgia, on my way back to DC after the 2015 Catholic New Media Celebration (CNMC). No, I am not sporting a cape and tights as I do so. While this will not be a particularly lengthy post, it is an important one for me, in that it marks my return to regular blogging following the past two months of hiatus. And before continuing I want to once again thank all of my readers for their gracious expressions of kindness following the death of my Mother.

There will be some fairly substantial changes afoot here in the coming months. I cannot yet provide a timetable, but I would ask that you keep your eyes peeled so that, as the saying goes, you will not find yourselves caught asleep at the switch. These changes should allow those of you who appreciate reading my fitful scribblings to do so in a better-framed context. My goal is to build upon the last substantial changes I made two years ago, in order to make the perusal of my writing a more user-friendly experience with respect to content, design, and accessibility.

For those of you who have never attended, I should explain that the CNMC is the perfect venue for a media producer looking to step up his game or tweak what he is already producing. It was refreshing to be encouraged to examine my content with a more critical – if not to say jaundiced, á la (Florence) King – eye. Even if, as it turned out, some of the presenters happened to make digs at me during their presentations. You know who you are (Greg Willits and Maria Johnson), and you’re going on a list.

While there was a great deal to process coming out of this CNMC, both personally and professionally, perhaps the most important takeaway was the notion that it’s time to pick up and start again where I had left off: a bit sadder, but hopefully also a bit wiser than I was before I stopped. I hope that your gracious patronage and engagement, gentle reader, will continue as it has lo these (nearly 7) years now. God bless you!


Somewhere Over Georgia

CNMC 2013: Relationships Matter

Now that I’m back from the Catholic New Media Conference in Boston, I have quite a bit to think about.

It is something of an understatement to say that I accumulated a great deal of information this past weekend.  I listened to others’ ideas and experiences at the conference itself, picked up reading materials of all kinds, exchanged business cards and contact details, and so on.  From the absolutely outstanding keynote address by Monsignor Paul Tighe of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which you can watch in its entirety here, to all of the great swag which I shamelessly hoarded to the point where I had to check my incredibly heavy carry on when I got to Logan, there was a lot to take in.

For that matter, there was also much for me to actually do.  The Catholic Weekend show live-streamed all day from the Boston Archdiocese Pastoral Center, where the CNMC was held.  At various points during the day I jumped into co-hosting mode to chat with my fellow co-hosts, or to grab people attending the conference and sit them down, and put them on camera for an interview.  I was also responsible for moderating the closing expert panel Q&A at the conference, which I enjoyed very much as I tried to get the audience involved, and hopefully maintained an appropriate balance of seriousness and humor (well, apart from when I addressed Bishop Christopher Coyne of Indianapolis as “Father” rather than “Excellency”, but he said he’d forgive me for that.)

Yet the most important thing I learned this weekend, even if it may sound rather obvious, is that all of this is really about relationships.

The types of relationships one forms as a result of producing media content matter a great deal.  The most obvious relationships in this regard are those between those creating the content and the consumers of that content – i.e., one’s readers, listeners, or viewers.  We have a responsibility to do the best we can to put out the best content we have if we want to grow and mature those relationships, for these relationships are based on trust.  Otherwise, there are plenty of other sources which these readers, listeners, or viewers could turn to for information or commentary.

There are also the relationships which form among those of us who are doing the work.  Whether they are fellow writers, contributing to the same publication we write for, guests appearing on the same show we appear on, or in any and all of the various ways in which content producers can find outlets for their voices in media today, all of these people had to start somewhere.  We are all at different points along an experiential continuum.  What is particularly gratifying and humbling to witness, and indeed to have benefited from personally, is the fact that some who have more experience can look back and offer a hand, a boost, or a bit of advice to someone less experienced, in a spirit of generosity and encouragement.  And hopefully in the fullness of time, if that person succeeds, they will remember to do the same for someone coming up behind them, as well.

On top of all of this is the fact that, for those of us who produce and consume Catholic media, there is an even deeper importance to these relationships.  For in the end of course, none of this matters if we are not trying to help other people get to heaven.  We can and should go about doing so in different ways, for the simple reason that people are different: some people respond to certain types of content and some to other types.  Think how many different Catholic religious orders there are, all trying to imitate Christ and become closer to Him, and all going about doing so in sometimes very different ways over the centuries.  Yet all are working to build the kingdom of God in the best way that they know how.

Following the CNMC, I cannot escape the significance of the underlying realization that one must always be working toward doing what one does even better than before, for the sake of these intertwined relationships.  In constantly striving to improve what we do, whether one works in media, plants corn, or designs rocket ships, all have the opportunity not only to improve skills and build relationships, but to connect and work more deeply with colleagues, mentors, and friends.  And that, in the end, may just bring each of us into a little bit closer relationship with God.